Julia Clark, 2006. Book Review: An Intimate History of Humanity. Reformulation, Summer, p.18.
Reviewed by Julia Clark
If you have not already come across Theodore Zeldin’s ‘An Intimate History of Humanity’, first published in 1994, it is as fresh and relevant today as it was over a decade ago.
It could be seen as a reformulation for humanity, with its detailed look at the various problem patterns of individual “persons” and the forms of pain associated with those patterns, all so delicately drawn. As a CAT therapist, there was a familiarity about this attention to the minute detail of suffering and joy. However, he uses both a “microscope” and a “telescope” to explore his themes; it is his capacity to set each struggle within its local and universal and historical context that is so exciting, so challenging to our more accustomed horizons. He throws up new ways of looking at situations that are familiar and has an amazing grasp of cultures that are less familiar. He encourages reflection on the “dilemmas” that face humanity, in order to “show that humans have more options before them than they currently believe”; he points to “new visions of the future” for “the whole of humanity”. At a rather dark time in our global history (and he observes the growing tension between fundamentalist religions), he injects hope by encouraging us to be more creative in the ways we relate, in our patterns of intimacy and connection, to be more “hospitable” to each other.
Reading this book was an experience, a slow read demanding concentration and time for assimilation; it was also absolutely gripping. Justice cannot be done to its richness and depth in a brief review. It would have passed me by had not a departing client left it as a gift, a treasure.
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